The District's budget crisis threatens to deal a severe blow to the city's only government-funded college financial aid program, according to city officials.
Approximately 700 eligible undergraduates may not receive any financial aid this year and program officials say there may be no money at all in the next fiscal year for the 500 students presently in the program.
According to Eloise Turner, head of the D.C. Sate Student Incentive Grant (SSIG) program, the city will be unable to match fully the $555,728 allocated by the U.S. Department of Education to fund the program during the 1980-81 school year.
From its own budget and from an $88,800 appropriation from Congress, the D.C. Department of Human Services, which administers the SSIG program, has been able to get together about $230,000 -- far short of the maximum match of $555,728.
Thus, SSIG funds, including the federal match, will total this year about $460,000.
If the District had been able to come up with the total match, SSIG funds when added to federal match money would have totaled more than 1.1 million.
Since 1976, when the D.C. grant program was approved by the city council and Congress to operate on a matching-fund basis, more than $2 million has been given to about 2,500 District residents to pay part of their college tuition and expenses at schools here and elsewhere. The grant allotments ranged from $400 to $1,500.
Students have been required to reapply each year for the SSIG grants, which are awarded to eligible students on a first-come, first-served basis.
To be eligible for the grant, a student must be a D.C. resident, enrolled or accepted by "an eligible institution of post-secondary education" for a full academic year and have substantial financial need.
Faced with the money shortage, Turner -- acting in accordance with federal regulations -- will give money only to those approximately 500 graduates who have previously received the grant and who remain eligible for it this year.
Thus, the 1,500 new applicants -- most of them recent high school graduates -- will not be considered for grants. If the District had had all the money it needed, an estimated 700 of these new applicants would have received grants.
Turner said she doubts that the city will be able to run the program in the next fiscal year unless Congress pays for the District's entire share of matching funds or the District can find sources of money other than from tax revenues.
Turner's office is mailing letters that advise first-time applicants and financial-aid officers at local colleges and universities to find other financial-aid sources.
It is not yet certain how the lack of SSIG funds will affect the ability of first-time applicants to finance their educations. Many of them may have already enrolled in colleges believing they were eligible to receive the grant and that money would be available.
Iris Dickens, 18, recently graduated from Roosevelt High School and applied for the D.C. grant for the first time this year.
When the 18-year-old Howard University freshman discovered she would not receive grant money, she said, "I don't know what I'm going to do. I was depending on as much as I could get from the D.C. grant. A college education is something I really want and I can't get it without financial aid."
Dickens, who is studying communications at Howard, said that including tuition of $1,775 annually and expenses, it costs her about $3,400 each year to attend college.
She works four hours a week at a local radio station, earning the minimum wage of $3.10. Her mother is unemployed and her father is a chef at a D.C. restaurant.
Dickens, from Northwest D.C., said her parents can offer her only about $200 each year for her education. She applied for a loan from the National Guaranteed Student Loan Program, but does not know whether her application will be approved.
"Most of my friends who are in college are in the same predicament as I am. We all need the D.C. grant," Dickens said.
Uwana Collins, a 19-year-old Howard University junior who will continue to get a SSIG grant, said, "Without the D.C. grant, I would not be able to go to school." She has received about $1,100 in grant money each year through the SSIG program.
Collins, who has two sisters at Montgomery College, also receiving the grant, works part time and receives a small Social Security check each month.
Leonora Smith, head of the Department of Education's SSIG program, said there is a possibility that local businesses or foundations might help fund the District's SSIG program.
She said private sources in other areas have helped out when states did not have enough money to fully match their federal allocation.
"The District could use each contributions on an interim basis and avoid losing its federal funds," Smith said.
Last week, Turner sent a letter to DHS Director James Buford requesting permission to pursue funds from local, private sources, including corporations and universities. A spokesman in Buford's office said before receiving Turner's letter, the director and his aides did not know that a federal statute allowed states to use private funds to match federal money. "We are receiving possible legal barriers that would deter us from using that approach in the District," the spokesman said.
The District government had administered a student loan program that was funded by local banks, but the program was suspended four years ago because so many recipients failed to pay off their loans.
The Higher Education Assistance Foundation, a private, nonprofit agency, has since January administered a guaranteed student loan program in the District.
This year the foundation has lent about 5,400 undergraduate and graduate students from the District about $16 million in loans, according to a foundation spokesman.
To contact the foundation, write 1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20036, or call 861-0704.